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Competitors or cohabitants? The debate over interconnect technologies

In the ongoing debate over which interconnect technologies or device interfaces are the best at connecting servers or storage devices--Fibre Channel ,Internet Protocol (IP) or Infinband --some companies have taken the position that it's not about which technology will emerge as the standard, but rather, how can these technologies work together. Adaptec, Inc., for example, says their goal is to eliminate the barriers to RAID and Storage Area Network (SAN) technology adoption and to make these technologies accessible to the masses.

Adaptec develops a range of host-based RAID controllers from entry-level UDMA RAID to Ultra160 SCSI and Fibre Channel RAID. Adaptec's server storage solutions also include Fast Ethernet network interface cards and connector cables. Adaptec's products include 1- and 2-Gbit Fibre Channel host bus adapters featuring Agilent's Tachyon chip, and the industry's first two-channel, 2 Gbit HBA prototype. The company is also rolling out a SCSI/Fibre Channel disk enclosure, with future offerings including external RAID and soft and hard-bundled storage solutions.

Because the Milpitas, Calif.-based Adaptec is developing all three technologies simultaneously, SearchStorage Assistant News Editor, Kevin Komiega talked with Mark Delsman, Adaptec's chief technology officer, to get the company's position on where these technologies compete and where they co-exist.

What about the highly-publicized obstacles to using Fibre Channel such interoperability, cost and complexity?
The interoperability issues are overblown. The industry as a whole has taken a lot of raps on interoperability and has done a lot to fix [the problems]. If you're going to implement a SAN Fibre Channel is the way to go, but you certainly pay a premium [for Fibre Channel] because it requires a whole new infrastructure. It's not a technology that you can just add on. There's definitely a barrier to entry. The training part is critical. The install base is growing at a fairly good pace. Now there are a lot of integrators out there with the know-how and experience to install SANs and educate customers. Fibre Channel is the only option out there right now if you want to move [to a next-generation architecture like a SAN.] Next year is a different story. There are new technologies on the horizon. Fibre Channel has been a standard storage technology for sometime. With emerging technologies in this market, where does Fibre Channel stand?
Fibre Channel has gone through the painful process of maturing into the marketplace. It's the technology available today for deploying SANs (storage area networks). Fibre Channel today is mostly deployed at one gigabyte per second and we are in the process of shipping two-gigabyte products. The roadmap is to reach 10 gigabytes per second in the near future. Fibre Channel allows you to connect up in a variety of different ways. We see Fibre Channel SANs as being deployed in large-scale data centers. Where will IP and Fibre Channel compete?
I really believe that Fibre Channel, with its performance model and its focus on storage, will give it its high-end appeal. IP is a flexible, data-sharing model. It will start of in the lower and midsize shops. How does Infiniband fit in?
Infiniband is being architected as a very high performance local interconnect. We expect to see the highest performance of all the new technologies out of Infiniband.

Practically speaking Infiniband is a replacement for the Peripheral Component Interconnect (PCI) bus inside the box, while allowing the flexibility of moving your I/O outside the box. Infiniband is for closely coupled servers and is by far the fastest interface of the three. It's a 2Ghz bi-directional interface that will support one pipe, six pipes, or twelve pipes. It spans one to two kilometers if you use optical. You don't want to get too far away with Infiniband. I strongly suggest that [due to Infiniband] PCI's days are numbered. Will the appearance of Internet Protocol (IP) storage oust Fibre Channel as the preferred device interface?
Fibre Channel is fairly expensive because you have to add a completely new infrastructure and there's the training involved. IP's appeal is that it leverages the existing IP infrastructure that most businesses already have in place. It utilizes existing switches and the current IT staff will know how to configure it. It will be very easy to install IP storage. Fibre Channel will be in data centers, IP will be in small and mid-size businesses that need to pool their storage. IP's appeal is also in its cost advantage. What are the advantages of Fibre Channel?
The flexibility of a switched fabric delivers a degree of reliability through multiple connections. Multiple connections mean multiple paths to your storage. Will IP or Infiniband encounter the same types of interoperability issues as Fibre Channel?
Fibre Channel's interoperability problems are being solved and [the industry] is working hard to get through them. For a long time there was a lack of willingness among the players in the industry to work together. With IP storage there is more desire out there for interoperability. Nobody's willing to put up with [products that don't work together] if there are other options.

Each of theses technologies has a very clear path in standards. Fibre Channel will lead. Infiniband released its I/O specification last fall. IP needs to close the gap. It had a late start, but it's moving rapidly. Fibre Channel has the head start and the installed base and longevity as a device interface. So, they really play in different spaces?
Infiniband is for closely coupled, high-performance servers. IP is flexible and for the mid-size to entry-level shop. Fibre Channel is trying to span all of these markets today because it?s the only technology out there. A couple of years down the road that's going to change.

Infiniband is going to be in every server, but it's in very early prototypes right now. It's a fairly complete and complex specification. It's going to take a while to roll out. We should see good solid deployments of Infiniband at the end of this year. IP storage is on a faster track because it's leveraging so much of what's out there already so we'll see true products faster. Certainly there is overlap in some cases.

Fibre Channel will take some hits when Infiniband enters the market. FC also takes a hit, at least where cost is concerned, when IP shows up because it?s a cheaper, flexible connection to peripherals. Why does Adaptec develop all three of these seemingly competing technologies?
I don't believe our company is going to dictate a solution because each technology has its strengths. We're trying to cover all the options. It's a question of resources. We're lucky to be able to pull that off. We don't get a vast majority of our revenue from Fibre Channel, Infiniband or IP, we get it from our SCSI business. SCSI still has a long life in the disk drive interface in high-end systems. It's tough to beat it.

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